DAWN (fka Dawn Richard, D∆WN, former member of Danity Kane and currently touring as part of DK3) has just released her first solo full-length album since completing her “Heart Trilogy” back in 2016. She’s been busy in the meantime. Musically, she’s worked on tracks with Dirty Projectors, Kimbra, and Mumdance. She has also been acting. DAWN was featured the movies Kinky and 5 Weddings, and had a part in the second season of the HBO show Insecure. In addition, she also created animated shorts for Rick and Morty on Adult Swim.
Not only is DAWN herself busy, that description would also fit her knew record, New Breed. The album is packed with sounds, from the incessant electronic dance beats that propel her music forward to her inclusion of spoken word lessons about the Black Indians of New Orleans that thread the various tracks together. Or as she sings vituperatively on the ironically titled “spaces”, (please note that all of her song titles are spelled in lower case characters) there are no empty spaces left to fill—except maybe in the erotic way.
DAWN clearly expresses her sexual needs and desires. The lyrics express a certain amount of gender fluidity, but there is no denying her passion. She explicitly declares her passion for physical love, as she croons seductively on “sauce”: “I’ve been a good girl all week / So I can dirty them sheets from Friday to Sunday no breaks / I’m ready to ride you like about to win a prize at the Kentucky Derby / I’m your jockey.” She’s vulgar on purpose as part of her tough neighborhood girl persona. DAWN declares her street credentials from the beginning of the record. She opens by announcing her allegiance to “the nine” section of New Orleans, a place where people “don’t fuck with you”. The album contains more than a dozen f-bombs to show DAWN’s gritty roots.
The Nine is also a place where anybody could be a King—or a Queen. DAWN comes from the Washitaw Nation, one of the legendary tribes of New Orleans Indians whose costumes, dancing, and music are an essential part the Crescent City’s rich heritage. DAWN’s music combines the rhythms and accents of the Washitaw but radically integrates it into the present with synthesized percussion and instrumentation. The songs purposely wander to suggest the free flow of ideas, like that Mardi Gras parade where the marchers and those on the sideline intermingle so that the boundaries disappear. The individual tracks on the record ebb and flow into each other. The conversational transitions only add to the album’s gestalt.
“I don’t follow no instructions,” DAWN declares on the song “new breed”. She professes to be a woman King—not a Queen. The album cover features a photo of her wearing the traditional headdress of the Washitaw Nation’s male leader. She recognizes her womanhood, but acknowledges that the differences between men and women in terms of sex and power are artificial social constructs. She is no less a female for wanting to have it all, and those who see her gender (or color, or body type, or ambition) as an obstacle are in for a surprise—these particulars give her strength.
Because this is dance music, DAWN’s lessons are meant to be moved to instead of just heard. She produced most of the record and intended the music as a soundtrack to some serious cavorting. The lyrics suggest life can be carnival, if you let yourself go. The instrumentation reinforces this message with a corporal, even carnal, insistence. The instinctive need to boogie cannot be denied.